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Wayfinding and Signage in
the Age of the Coronavirus

As our country slowly begins to reopen and workers start to return to the office, the need for well-designed office wayfinding signage takes on new meaning. While the other topics in this series address long-term issues regarding office design, this week our goal is to offer immediate solutions to help your team members return to the office with the help of Lee Goetgeluck, our Environmental Graphics Design Director.

The Role of Wayfinding and Signage

Wayfinding, an information system that guides people through a physical environment, includes the use of signage and other graphic communication and visual clues in the built environment. In the design industry, it refers to the set of architectural or design elements that aid orientation. Comprehensive wayfinding systems combine signage, maps, colors and symbols, often integrating mobile applications, digital displays and other wireless technologies. In general, wayfinding systems, which are based on human behavior, should consist of clear and comprehensive messaging that displays relevant information. An effective system will contribute a sense of well-being, safety and security to the environment in which it is used.

  • Date August 2020
  • Topic Design
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Signage, the most visual part of wayfinding, needs to be designed and placed to increase clarity and understanding. The design of wayfinding signage is more important than ever to ensure physical distancing and team member safety. Because we feel it is of utmost importance that companies create environments where people feel comfortable and safe, we believe wayfinding design should play a critical role in building trust and easing workers back into the post-pandemic office environment. The issue is not simply getting people back as quickly as possible. Business owners must also consider how to create a sense of security as employees return to the office.

A well-thought-out strategy for designing signage that specifically provides safety standards will help create independence and build trust between leaders and their team members. According to Facilitiesnet, “The strategies to create a healthy and physically safe workspace yield emotional safety in that space…Communication in this case is essential, and highly visible signage placed in conspicuous locations alerts all those entering the workplace about the current situation and necessary precautions they should adhere to while in the building.…Not only does signage alert those entering the workplace about precautions they need to take. It also reinforces the fact that the property owner and those managing the property take the health and welfare of those entering the workplace to heart, and it should make them more comfortable emotionally.”

Design Considerations

Design plays a major role in our short-term strategy for preparing for the post-pandemic office. While some government agencies and large corporations are advocating quick-fix tape and cardboard solutions as an immediate approach, we strongly believe companies can do better in terms of aesthetics, messaging and personalization. According to Lee, “It must be authentic, coming straight from your organization and match your brand. Your voice is needed to build trust. Signage should be well-designed and purposeful, as simple as possible, with clear pictograms. We find signage tends to veer towards opposite spectrums, either too silly, which gives the impression the company is handling the situation too lightly, or too serious, which can evoke anxiety and discomfort.”

We find signage tends to veer towards opposite spectrums, either too silly, which gives the impression the company is handling the situation too lightly, or too serious, which can evoke anxiety and discomfort.

Appropriate wayfinding signage is the one of the first things needed in the short-term. It can always be altered as both the response to the pandemic and the configuration and population of your office change over time. There is much to take into consideration as you start work on your wayfinding plan.

Your signage should follow ADA standards. We recommend consistency in typography, type height, icons and choice of materials. Using a straightforward design and an easy-to-read font will ensure that your wayfinding system is effective. Typeface should be a version of sans-serif, which is clear and simple. Positive letter spacing will enhance the visual appearance. Eric Levine and Janet Dugan of NBBJ, along with ESI Design’s Principal Alexandra Alfaro, advise that “recognizable shapes like circles or squares are both noticeable and simple…Wayfinding that relies on repetition, standardization and familiar shapes can help people quickly orient themselves and lead them through a space in an intuitive way.”

Next, choose colors that clearly get the message across and follow standard color theory (i.e. green = go, yellow = caution, red = stop, blue = clean). The colors used should be elevated for interior use.

According to linguistics expert Suzanne Wertheim Ph.D., “Language is important. It should state a ‘you’ and ‘we’ tone as opposed to ‘they’ and ‘them’ to create a personal connection while serving as a reminder to do the right thing.” Lee advises that signage should also include facts: “While its main message should stay focused on safety requirements and guidelines, it should also include a quick reference to the “why” which will build more incentive for team members to follow guidelines.” Keeping signage simple decreases anxiety and reducing text to only the essentials makes directions easier to comprehend and follow.
We also suggest that before installing your wayfinding system, you first make prototypes and then conduct a dry run in the office environment to make sure yours is a best-practice design.

What Type of Signage Do You Need?

There are four types of signs:
1. Directional: Tells people which way to go
2. Informational: Provides information on the place where people are
3. Identifying: Symbolizes the arrival at a destination
4. Regulatory: Lets people know what they can and cannot do in a given area

The first consideration is regulatory COVID-19-specific signage that addresses hygiene, specifically the location of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) stations, handwashing guides and respiratory etiquette. Directional, or navigational, signs indicating paths of travel are essential and will vary according the size of your office. Directional signage is a recent phenomenon starting to appear in retail stores, and most everyone is already familiar with it. According to the World Economic Forum, hospitals are adopting an approach requiring employees to walk clockwise, creating a one-way airflow to minimize transmission, a policy you may need to adopt in your office based on layout, size and the number of employees.

We also recommend that your wayfinding plan adds additional layers, such as directories and navigational signage throughout your space following paths of travel. Identifying signs, such as the type of blade signage that is typically used by retail stores because both sides are visible, can be easily spotted throughout a space, especially if placed above the visual noise of furniture and fixtures. These should be used to indicate the presence of hand sanitizing and bleach wiping stations. Exit signs must be highly visible across all spaces. Whether directional, informational, identifying or regulatory, your signage can be expanded or contracted based on the size of your office and the changing requirements in the weeks and months ahead.

Summary

While the majority of our series is based on a long-term future of work mindset, we believe there is an immediate need to consider how design, specifically wayfinding and signage, can help you prepare your team to return to the office in the coming weeks. While office changes need to be addressed in a timely manner, we believe that solutions like tape and cardboard will only create more uncertainty in team members. Clear, well-designed signage will give your team members confidence that you are prepared to navigate the changes ahead.We have created a series of simple signage packages to help you address this issue in a cost-effective manner including low cost and no-cost options. Please reach out to us if you are interested in learning more at: bizdev@pophouse.design

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